The Roles of Earned Media, Paid Media, and Owned Media

In the PR world, you’ll often hear plenty of terms batted around the different kinds of media. Chief among them are three media types: earned, paid, and owned. What do these mean? Before we delve into the different types, let’s set the table for an understanding of what media is. We judge what something is by what it does.

  • Sales produces customers and revenue.
  • Marketing produces leads and content.
  • Media produces audience and awareness.

Once you understand what the chief goals of sales, marketing, and media are, understanding how media fits into the big picture gets easier.

The earned media lifecycle


Owned media

Owned media channels are any media channels that you have direct control over in terms of content. There are obvious earned media channels such as your website or your email marketing list, but there are also non-intuitive channels like your company’s Facebook Page or your company’s Google+ Community or LinkedIn group. Owned media even includes your physical brick and mortar storefront, because you are constantly communicating to the customer while they are in your store. Owned media channels are yours to control and the responsibility for content on them is yours. Likewise, the audience is yours.

Paid media

Paid media channels are any media channels that you must pay to access. You don’t own them, and unless you pay money, you don’t get to have access to them. Examples of paid media are things like pay per click ads, advertisements on TV or radio, banner ads, paid editorial content in email newsletters, sponsored blog posts, etc. Paid media channels are out of your control the moment the money stops, and the flow of audience stops with it.

Earned media

Earned media channels are any media channels that you must earn access to by having stuff worth talking about or sharing. Paying money doesn’t get you in, and you don’t own it, so you have to earn your way in with awesomeness. Earned media channels in the past have been traditional, mainstream media outlets like TV news programs, newspapers, radio talk shows, magazines, etc. but are now a much broader universe. Earned media includes things like other people’s blogs, social media accounts, and even search engines. (SEO is functionally another form of earned media) Anywhere someone else can talk about how awesome you are is earned media. If you’ve got awesome to share, earned media can be a tremendous, sustainable source of new audience for your product or service.

Once you understand the relationships among the media types and how they contribute to the overall communications process, knowing what’s lacking in your media mix becomes fairly straightforward.

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk